Today, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its latest report on the Obama Administration's proposal to waive work requirements for welfare recipients, which was announced by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on July 12, 2012. While a prior GAO report showed the Administration didn't follow the law when they unilaterally announced their new policy, this new report details how one important source has unequivocally stated that no authority exists to waive work requirements. The source? The Department of Health and Human Services.
Both GAO reports were requested by Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, whose committees have jurisdiction over welfare work requirements, and who have introduced resolutions in the House and Senate blocking the Administration's waiver proposal. The House version of the legislation (H.J. Res. 118) disapproving the Administration's waiver of welfare work requirements is expected to be considered on the House floor later this week.
Speaking about the report, Chairman Camp stated, "This latest report from GAO confirms that since 1996 HHS has consistently held that they have no authority to waive the welfare work requirements that have been essential in moving low-income Americans from welfare checks to paychecks. Now this Administration is unlawfully attempting to circumvent Congress to undo a successful law that they simply don't like. However, as the report shows, a decade and a half of precedent is not on their side, and neither is the court of public opinion. The American people overwhelmingly believe work ought to be a condition for receiving welfare. The Obama Administration has simply gone too far, and Congressional action this week will provide a necessary balance to this blatant attempt to circumvent Congress."
Ranking Member Hatch said , "GAO has been clear: the Obama Administration's decision to unilaterally change bipartisan welfare reform undermines the importance of work to move people towards self-sufficiency. That this Administration moved ahead without consulting Congress demonstrates a complete disregard for the Constitution that explicitly gives the legislative branch the authority to make laws. This unprecedented power grab must be stopped and I'm hopeful that my Senate colleagues will back my resolution of disapproval to accomplish that goal."
What GAO Found:
1. HHS has never before granted waivers of TANF program rules.
This latest GAO report documents how a number of States have previously requested waivers from various requirements in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) welfare program -- including waivers related to work requirements for welfare recipients. The GAO report notes, however, "since the creation of TANF, HHS has not granted any section 1115 waivers related to TANF."
2. HHS has previously told States that no waiver authority existed.
The latest GAO report details how whenever States requested TANF waivers in the past, HHS responded that no such authority exists. Between 2000 and 2009 -- during the Clinton, Bush, and even Obama administrations -- HHS has consistently told States they have no waiver authority. Specifically, GAO finds that at least five States asked HHS about TANF waivers during that period. In two of these cases, GAO says HHS' official response said that they "did not have authority to provide waivers." In the three other cases when States asked informally, GAO reports that HHS responded saying "the requested waiver authority was not available." Separately, HHS in 2005 and 2007 published two "Program Instructions" about flexibilities in TANF, both indicating no waiver authority existed. In these instructions HHS stated that "we have no authority under current law to waive any of the TANF statutory requirements" and "we have no authority to waive any of the provisions in the Act."
3. Only the Obama Administration -- and only since July 2012 -- has claimed this "authority," circumventing Congress.
The latest GAO report highlights that only the Obama Administration has claimed the authority to waive welfare work requirements. Further, GAO notes that this action by current HHS officials is in response to the President's February 2011 memorandum which, according to subsequent Administration guidance, solicited "input on significant statutory barriers that could be addressed through waivers." Especially when viewed in the context of the President's "we can't wait" agenda, it is clear that this HHS proposal is part of an organized Administration effort to circumvent Congress and its legislative authority.